The phrase ‘this meddlesome God’ at first seemed a worrying title to the vital years of ministry at Christ Church Gladesville. Those were after all years of formation and discovery. They coincided with the dramatic changes in Australian (probably Western) society where accepted ethical standards and politics were transformed. But, yes, ‘meddlesome’ because the God so central to life and faith seemed to be slipping to the edge. In the face of all this change could we still believe an an interventionist, personal God?
Our years at Christ Church Gladesville brought this to a head. The years preceding this set patterns and shaped decisions that in retrospect played their part in the way ministry shaped as we moved there in 1969.
What follows is written as more than biography. It is a journey of the ‘soul’. The text therefore belongs with the Profile in which I introduce myself .
1. Curiosity: A First Visit to Christ Church Gladesville
It must have been Easter time in 1958. I was catechist at St Alban’s Five Dock and spending some gossipy and remarked-on time with the organist Rosemary Lloyd Owen. We shared an intense friendship but my own sense of life and ministry left me too self-preoccupied to make more of this.
Rosemary was an accomplished musician and had been invited to sing at a special Good Friday service at Christ Church Gladesville. Of course I would join her. So, we travelled there as we always did for our outings in her very cramped Beetle. The centre-piece of the evening was the play Christ in the Concrete City, during which Rosemary was to sing the lines by Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650) to the Orlando Gibbons’ tune, Song 46:
Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet
which brought from heaven the news and Prince of Peace.
Cease not, wet eyes, his mercies to entreat;
to cry for vengeance sin doth never cease.
In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye see sin, but through my tears.
The words still evoke a profound sense of belonging and ‘presence’ that stayed with me all our subsequent years at Christ Church. This, and the play that contained it, remained the essence of Christ Church for me. Whatever the vagaries of church times or people responses, the parish retained an underling passion that I tried to evoke each Sunday.
We came to Christ Church in 1969 when the social dynamics had dramatically changed. If I was inspired by an ancient melody and an antique theology, the reality of the day meant to grasp the ‘death of God’ moment with a firmer embrace of humanity’s ‘beauteous feet’. Back then, I had no idea where this might lead me, but I knew at least that I must engage the moment creatively.
2. Devastation: The Passion and the Pain that Brought us to Gladesville
Mullewa to Carnarvon
The time sequence changes to 1967. We hadn’t been long at Mullewa when offers began to press us to move on. After only six months in ‘the bush’ the Archbishop of Perth had urged me to accept the parish of St David’s Applecross. I met the nominators and knew this would be a great opportunity for ministry – but Mullewa held me.
To further tempt us away, the Archbishop then suggested that I become the Diocesan Director of Adult Education with the added role of Principal of Wollaston Theological College. Again no, but the decision was hard. Then the position of chaplain at St George’s College at the University of Western Australia under Joshua Reynolds demanded a quick reply – once more I regretfully said no. On the other hand, Mullewa-Yalgoo remained and grew as our new world of discovery.
Howell Witt and the1928 Tourer
All that said, there seemed every indication that we wouldn’t return to Sydney. When our two year term at Mullewa wound up we felt that we would move on to Perth and settle there. Bishop Witt was keen to keep us in his Diocese and offered me the role of Archdeacon of the North West settled at Dongara. That town also had its magical appeal for our family life.
And then, with Bishop Witt considering moving on, a couple of members of the Diocesan Council wanted to put my name forward as bishop. These were heady times and Margaret persistently grounded me. We were people committed to promise: we had come West determined to serve others before our own interests and Mullewa for now stood central to that. And as for being a bishop, Margaret was adamant that I would simply burn out or drop out with exhaustion or drive – out of physical control. I knew she was right.
In the midst of all that possibility and temptation for change, Margaret and I needed to face some tough family decisions. Margaret’s two pregnancies in Mullewa had been accompanied by some anxiety. From the outset there was uncertainty about the first pregnancy with early bleeding. Though Ian had a healthy birth in the local hospital, we felt we couldn’t risk the life of mother and child there again. Should we return to Sydney? The longer we thought about this the clearer the decision became. With a fifth pregnancy, and again anxiety, we decided with a great deal of soul-searching that we should return to Sydney and family for the birth.
BCA handled our early leaving with great generosity. The organisation found us free accommodation in the McKay’s home at Como, NSW. Bill Rich invited me to be BCA’s local representative and bush story-teller while we awaited the birth and a Sydney appointment.
And then on 26 May 1969 Heather Elizabeth was with us – only to leave us after four days: there followed the phone call from Dr Moon, the midnight race to North Shore Hospital and the tragic hours with Margaret. The next morning I gathered our little family of four and told them the sad news. Even today I don’t wish to dwell on this, except in the quiet recesses of my own heart. Margaret still carries her own grieving.
3. Anticipation: The Direction to Change Course
One more surprise in store. Christ Church Gladesville was not on our horizon: while still living at Como we received an offer of the Parish of Beacon Hill and decided to accept. The wardens began house renovation and all seemed settled for our induction. We were signed and sealed. Without warning, Archbishop Sir Marcus Loane wrote asking me to withdraw my acceptance, as he wanted us to go to Christ Church Gladesville. He had his own long history with Christ Church and made it very clear that this was his wish for the parish and for our ministry.
This was the high point of a complex family relationship with Sir Marcus Loane. In 1961, Margaret and I had asked him if he would conduct our marriage ceremony at St Paul’s Chatswood. He had been delighted to do this and had asked us to change our date so that he could preside. He already knew Margaret from her days as Sydney EU Secretary and Fellowship Leader at St Paul’s. So, in a sense we were both among his favourite people. He confirmed at their request our three daughters and one of them regularly visited him and Lady Loane at their home.
Left to right: Harry Goodhew, Jan Curd, Barry Huggett, Jan McDonald, Bill and Margaret – 21 December 1961 at ‘Stow on the Wold’, Turramurra
In my single days, barely ordained Deacon, Marcus Loane had made clear to me that I would be appointed to the Moore College staff and he had made this obvious to Broughton Knox. I overheard the directive. On my appointment, Marcus took me aside and told me that I must ‘keep an eye on Broughton’, attend meetings and then report back to him any thoughtless or unhelpful pubic statements. I was charged with the complicated roles of adviser, confidant and tale-teller. I made my own choices about what I would tell either of them.
Margaret and I had each our separate involvement with Marcus Loane. In much later years relations soured between us. A critique of the diocese in my PhD thesis and subsequently the emphasis of our ministry at Darlinghurst led to his accusation that we had abandoned Evangelicalism. He refused to speak to us and was in fact quite rude to both of us publicly. The distance for our children and us remained to his death [conflated from letters to Allan Blanch]. But in 1969, we were among ‘the chosen’ and high in his esteem. He saw us as extending the Evangelical ministry he himself had celebrated in Gladesville when he was David Knox’s curate and son-in-law.
4. The Need for Honesty and the Expectation of Others
Kathy greeting Grandpa Dawson arriving at the Rectory front door for Rozi’s birthday
The rambling Gladesville Rectory was suddenly our home. News of the sudden death of our fifth child Heather had preceded us. On our arrival the churchwardens sent a delicate posy of violets to Margaret . The gift came with the softest understanding message. We both recall it as a gentle touch of love and respect and hold its memory still in our hearts. I seem to recall that it was delivered by Buster and Bob Pye. It was our first passionate awakening to an abundant acceptance.
Margaret once wrote a passionate insight into those years that bears repeating:
My spiritual energy at that time derived from verses like ‘I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord who made Heaven and earth.’ And I prayed constantly for my family. A friend and I, in those days, coined a phrase, people matter more than things. I tried to live that out as a Christian wife and a Christian mother, trusting in God.
Another deep drive triggered by my baby’s death, came from the fear that life is very uncertain and can be snatched from one in an instant. This meant an urgency in me to meet people’s needs because I did not know if this could be my last chance to meet those needs. This drive gathered more and more energy. When I went back to work in the paid work force, it joined with the ethos of other working mothers; ‘Do it all, do it well, and God give me the strength’. Looking back, I can see how outwardly focussed I had become in responding to life and faith according to the expectations of others, and making theirs my own focus. I tried so hard to be right and never wrong. It was a salvation by works really. The journey into my own inner truth was still to come (from Margaret’s sermon at St John’s Darlinghurst, Women of Faith and Action series, November 1998).
Those very insightful words of Margaret instil in me a determination here to write as truthfully and as generously as I can. I read her comments several times and realised how much my own ministry has been about responding ‘to the expectations of others’. I think that was what made the hostility of the few outweigh the acceptance of the many.
If my mind’s eye can still see Stella and Ron Weir, Jim and Dell Wood dancing in the aisle on the Sunday evening that I announced my resignation, I need to recall the friendships of those six years. In doing this I must affirm that our time at Gladesville added fresh insight to our understanding of life and ministry. Almost from the outset we offered three very human qualities – a deep unresolved sadness at the loss of a child, an excitement born of our bush discoveries and a profound inner joy at the coming into our lives of Derek James. But that exciting story must wait its turn.
Inducted into Fresh Experiences
How strange. Beyond three personal photos I have no memory of the evening or of the actual Parish Induction. I can’t even locate the Service book that might have offered some basic information. I think that grief over the death of Heather still took its toll and we faced each day as best we could. I know this was profoundly Margaret’s experience. I hope someone reading this can jolt me into some connected recollections.
But I know that already Margaret and I had some inclinations about new ways of understanding how we might weave our selves and our experiences into parish life. Mullewa had isolated Margaret; now she was free to explore motherhood in an expansive home and offer her own skills to a group of similarly young families.
Neither of us felt confined to gender-based ministries, but the circumstances naturally located Margaret with women’s groups. She offered herself there unstintingly. Mullewa had confronted me with my own struggle about priestly vocation. ’Vocation’ was never part of the Moore College focus; rather, the concept of ‘vocation as priest’ had haunted me from teen years. Margaret once called this my ‘zealot gene’ (email to Derek 27 April 2004).
Mullewa had taught me to celebrate my manhood. I learnt to be resourceful, independent of formal structures, willing when necessary to go it alone. In Mullewa I started to learn the importance of conversation and standing shoulder to shoulder with other men. At the same time I experienced those strong women who added imagination and an amazing depth of spirit that filled their vast bush isolation with creative energy. An exciting theology based on human integrity and an imaginative response to change and loss had awakened both of us to a fresh understanding of Jesus’ teaching about radical discipleship. This would settle as one of the deepest, most profound changes in our lives.
Margaret and I brought this to Christ Church Gladesville with an immediate positive response. Transformation began in the simple act of ‘welcoming outsiders’ without expectations. The teaching was not about sin or exclusion but about welcome.
We both came grounded in a classical Evangelical understanding of the Gospel call to repentance and renewal. That is why Archbishop Loane wanted both of us – Margaret especially I suspect – in the parish at that time. To maybe half a dozen central parish families it seemed as if we were wavering from these Evangelical roots. They saw me as pushing aside their concerns over Biblical inspiration and authority, how Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice and whether the church should be an open society or one contained within a conversion proclamation.
I remember some hostile evenings in a handful of parishioners’ homes over these issues. Several of those who were lukewarm about our arrival were overwhelmed with joy when we announced in 1976 that we were leaving. Events at Christ Church steadily moulded my distance from them. But the mainspring of parish energy embraced us.
Already we were both bursting with new discoveries about life in the 70s. We were part of a transforming period in Western society, but we lacked the language to vocalise our yearnings. At the same time the church family with its long conservative history held us, offering stability.
Margaret began a fresh inner journey that started with her reading Paul Tournier, “obviously in some sort of private personal search: it was just answering my own need”. Margaret added “I discovered that I liked being busy and occupied, and I could be, I had the energy for it. And I loved being a mother. I really did my very best to be the best mother I could. I put my children first and I would get frustrated when parishioners would call at afternoon tea time, when they were just coming home from school. As people often do, because they know you’ll be there, they’re just passing by, and ringing at dinnertime, that sort of thing. But on the whole, I felt it was a good life” [from an interview 30 January 2012].
With my own vocational struggle, I spent primary time encouraging people to talk about God without trying to define God. I urged them to share their experiences of life and their sense of an inner spirit that sustained them: they were all children of God, touched by the Spirit of God. They may at times have strayed from ‘God’s paths’ but they were always welcome to our and the divine embrace.
One of our deepest recollections is being invited to Les and Rona Griffiths’ home in Tennyson Road. They were well away from church attendance and Les had the uncanny ability to mock anything religious or sanctimonious. Les was the typical cynical ‘outsider’.
Rona and Les – Les I think more strongly – wanted their children christened but clergy in the surrounding parishes and denominations had refused. They were ‘outsiders’ and unless they jumped through some religiously specified hoops they might stay that way.
They arrived at the Rectory making this one last attempt, expecting further rejection. I remember saying ‘yes’ with no questions asked. The hard part followed. Les and Rona invited us home to a celebratory party; the entertaining rooms would be packed with strangers.
The evening was wet and Margaret, dressed in her chosen finery, slipt in the mud just as we left home. Dripping and uncomfortable we were swept into the gathering; would we like a lemonade? We replied in unison that something stronger might take our minds off our awkward entry. Les constantly regaled us and others with his memories of that first meeting. We had built a friendship on the simple human (and biblical) requirement of welcome and hospitality.
I could multiply that story across many parish visits and the numerous celebratory dinners held in the Rectory. A sense of welcome expanded the shape of liturgy, the style of preaching and the way an even-handed ministry might evolve. It all centred on people and daily living which hopefully gave meaning and content to the more abstract concepts of forgiveness and redemption.
‘THE GERIATRIC CENTRE OF SYDNEY’
Bob and Mary Pye’s lounge room
l to r Bill Lawton, Ron Winton, Walter Newmarch, John Reid
John Reid the former Rector had greeted us warmly but we knew that we were not his sort of people. My recollection of John is as a man with a ‘mission commitment’ that was crystal-clear in his public statements: he expected others to endorse these. I recall once speaking about love as the heart of Christian commitment: John overheard me and responded that without justice love was an empty sentiment (letter to Allan Blanch, 2 August 2012).
John had drawn many returned missionaries into the congregation; they disappeared without a trace before we had moved into the Rectory. John and his wife Alison had a ministry style and presence very different to ours. On the other hand, our families seemed to instantly click and for a time some friendships developed.
At one of our early discussions John announced that Gladesville was now ‘the geriatric centre of Sydney’. A tinge of misgiving coloured our enthusiasm. John seemed genuinely relieved to be moving on, but he also had close bonds with the parish. He had an intense and detailed knowledge of people and their circumstances, shaped by his thirteen year ministry; he was now moving on to a diocesan administrative role.
LIVING WITH GLADESVILLE’S PAST
In one respect John Reid was absolutely correct in his estimate of the parish as ‘elderly’ – ‘geriatric’ was too strong a word. The old families were still in residence, some subdividing their land for the children and grandchildren to live separately but still within reach of regular afternoon tea. Each Sunday there would be rows of three generational families. The returned missionaries may have gone, but a vital congregation remained.
I had learnt an antique style of parish visitation from Eric Mortley at Eastwood and Norman Fox from my catechist days at St Alban’s Five Dock. Each in their own way had encouraged me to believe that ‘a house going parson makes a church going people’. So I started visiting, door after tedious door. At length it proved a pointless exercise and changing social values through the late 60s and early 70s were proof of that.
Bedlam Point – 1890
Some people were downright dismissive, many houses of course had both adults at work and in their boats on weekends, but the elderly churchgoers used the visits to talk about ‘the old days’. Some like Mrs Denman – who publicly and I think privately called her late husband ‘Archdeacon’ – told how the family had rowed down river to settle among the chicken runs and small farms. Mrs Walker showed me the actual bed in which she had been born and 80 years later still slept in. Mrs Denton invited our growing family to a weekly gargantuan baked lamb three course dinner complete with every trimming imaginable. This was old world, captivating hospitality.
Many parishioners had grown up in Gladesville attending the local school and so as children they must have called each other by Christian or nickname. But I only ever heard them address each other as Mr and Mrs and Miss: though Mr Miller saw Mr Parsons and Mrs Denman (nee Miss Una Mackaness) on a regular basis they were always utterly formal with each other. If the district was growing more diverse and more insular, the church still replicated the village days of long before.
CATALYST FOR GROWTH
The catalyst for parish growth lay in two other quite different directions. Richard Parkinson joined the congregation and began to organise people into the performance of Christian musicals. These were huge productions that tested individual skill and versatility, but at the same time focused entirely on the church group: there were no ring-ins. The impact galvanised a sense belonging and a commitment to each other.
The other transformation came from Macquarie University with numbers of staff and students joining our congregations. These were the years before a chaplaincy was in place. Yes, and there was also a small representation of an intentional community house and a few members of The God Squad complete with helmets, girlfriends and motorcycles. That incidentally was how I first came in contact with John Smith and found myself drawn to the Jesus movement.
Our ancient inherited style was under the challenge of immense social change and the past began to buckle. Richard was an interesting person – charismatic in an old sense of that word. He could galvanise action and evoke people’s creative energy but he could also alienate. We faced a growing young adult congregation linked into the Sunday service but actually bound much more tightly to the sub-groups to which they belonged.
Richard led the largest of the groups – if I might call them that since they only met to sing, prepare and act. When one musical finished they commenced planning for the next. And the music became an integral part of what the many groups found at evening church.
If Richard was charismatic, he was also searching for his own centre. For the time he found it in the conversations we had and in the enthusiasm of creativity. When he moved on to the United States he undertook further research in aeronautics and, if my memory serves me correctly, into nuclear armaments. When we last spoke, which was many years ago, he was working for the US Department of Defense and still searching for his centre.
The impact of Richard’s contribution ricocheted through the parish and collided with the struggling and introverted Youth Fellowship. Stan Beaman was leader. Again, when I met Stan in much later days he was a diocesan disciple and made his dislike of me quite plain. In his Fellowship leader days Stan was, to put the best word image on it, very much to the east of Eden.
The Fellowship dozen wafted through meditation, moments of quiet reflection, and simple (let us say) too briefly prepared spiritual snippets interrupted by some over-close male-female companionship. This was all honest enough in any generation but the whole experience shaped the Fellowship like a miniature flower people culture.
And here is one illustration. One fascinating Saturday, the late teens groom arrived on his motorbike, flung an ankle-length kaftan over his leathers and joined his bride looking even more radiant than she. Flower-power was never more in evidence.
The bulk of young adults avoided the Fellowship group. I still recall the strong presence of Alex Brooking, Rick Parkhill, Chris and Roland Dunkerley, Martin and Jenny Thearle, Peter Annetts, Tasso Tricos and Bob Springett – as my mind clears and concentrates many more names will come to mind. Alex has gone on to a leading role with the Department of Foreign Affairs; Rick a school teacher and Tasso a man of many trades joined us at Darlinghurst, the Dunkerley brothers took leadership with the Australia Party, Martin Thearle is a senior accountant with the Diocese, Peter Annetts became a general practitioner in Glen Innes and so on.
With each of them I have watched a growth of Christian maturity influenced by the many strands that make up Christ Church Gladesville. If you were looking for people diversity, it was at hand in Christ Church in those days. And the diversity found some unity in the Evening Prayer service that tried to cater for all of them. Of course that would never be possible but the level of academic pursuit of the majority tested my own capacity to speak directly and to discover my own dynamism.
The archival remains from those years are scant, but Gillian Thompson (then Dismorr) sent on to me a single Bulletin sheet dated 3 August 1975. The cover story was about the discovery of the Genesis Apocryphon with some general comments on the way the Dead Sea Scrolls might have located aspects of the Jewish hopes of Jesus’ days. A reference in the centre of the Bulletin noted a Sunday morning group for that day to discuss Barbara Thiering’s book, Created Second. The attached Bulletin comment was a challenge to change:
The purpose of this short series is to consider the Bible view of Men and Women in their relationship and as individuals. The question has been posed that ‘the Church bears the major blame in society for discrimination against women.’
Peggy Huggett with our ‘blended’ families.
We were greeted with quaint old world responses, not all of them congenial. When our small children rode their tricycles or played ball in the church grounds on Sundays, there would be head shaking. Kathy recalls being allowed to ‘play in the church and our friends all wanted to be invited over on a Sunday so we could stand in the lectern and sing into the microphone and run up and down to and from the choir loft to be the audience. Some of our friends weren’t allowed to come over because it was a Sunday’.
One of the older parishioners would recall the Knox’s Rectory weekend rituals of baking on Saturday so that Sunday was inviolate. And then there would be an aside about Mrs Knox’ always gloved hands. No one uttered the word, but we seemed to be barbarians. When I entered a meeting room they emphasised their distance and their antique manners by saying to each other as if each other needed to notice, ‘The Rector is coming’ – all of these very elderly would stand till I was seated. ‘Geriatric’ was never the right word; ‘old world’ was more to the point.
Rev H G J Howe
A surprising number of the elderly still belonged to the Loyal Orange Lodge Chapter that met in the Parish Hall. Their connections ran deeply into the local history of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches. They regaled us with stories about the building of the old Lodge Hall, with its deliberately constructed low entrance door. When the Sinn Feiners from Ryde tried to gain entry, waiting Lodge members would beat their bowed heads and bent backs. They celebrated King William’s Irish conquests as if they were yesterday and condemned the Pope and the ‘Ritualists’ as roundly as Cromwell ever did. With Parish Hall curtains well-drawn, these 70 and more year olds rushed up and down the Parish Hall with cardboard swords fighting the Battle of the Boyne. Mr Miller, really such a sweet and co-operative man was Grand Master, but his legs were too short for the large wooden Master’s throne. It reposed in the Rectory hallway, an amazing addition to our and visiting children’s daily amusement.
We came to Christ Church in 1969 when the social dynamics had dramatically changed. The reality of the day meant to grasp the ‘death of God’ moment. Back then, I had no idea where this might lead me, but I knew at least that I must engage the moment creatively.
Sunday Church services were held at their mid-century century times of 8am Holy Communion, 11am Morning Prayer with choir and 7.15pm Evening Prayer. The earliest service had suffered the most from congregational shift and sometimes there were only 4 people present. Facing the pointlessness of trying to revive this service I announced that there would be a single morning service at 10.00am – consternation, this was an innovation too great. But it worked and when subsequently I suggested a change to 9.30am, so that Sunday School children could be better included, this was greeted with the comment that church had ALWAYS been at 10.00.
What had happened ALWAYS seemed the mark of the parish. But I knew things had been different both when John Reid was Rector and before him when the Canadian import Maurice Murphy had turned the parish upside down. To get the feel of those days, this recollection by Donald Robinson will set the scene: http://webjournals.ac.edu.au/journals/Lucas/nos23-24-dec-1997-june-1998/05-fifty-years-of-the-international-fellowship-of-/
Christ Church Choir
Some of the music I heaped on the choir is embarrassing to recall – not least Burl Ives’ ’70s revival of ’The Royal Telephone’. Morning church struggled with the Medical Mission Sisters guitar strumming ‘Joy is like the rain’ and much, much, more. Dr Ron Winton, always a supporter, groaned at the choices. But something new was happening all around us and these lyrics however wretched in today’s appreciation were an attempt to harness a new generation. I think that we were the first Anglican church in the Diocese of Sydney to make regular use of a band at Evening Prayer.
The surplice, the scarf and hood, the 1662 liturgy were all in place and more often than not the service presented in Anglican chant – but the band played on under the leadership of Ray and Lyn Arthur. Some of the band wrote the music we sang. And our numbers of young adults grew.
A monthly Family Service was another point of contention. The Parish at that time still had a loose connection with twelve soccer teams all part of the New South Wales Protestant Churches Soccer Football Association. Twelve other teams had separated to form the Rangers. Bob Springett also organised a Cricket Club that persisted through our time at Christ Church. I was never the sporting type but decided that somehow I MUST encourage links with these young people and their families.
Each Family Service was experimental and people came in large numbers. Fascinatingly, folk with no soccer connections also came and through the service linked with us and with some of the parish activities. But there was the inevitable contention from the minority that I ‘put [my] arms around these outsiders’. I wondered what sort of heritage this was that was so conflicted with and so fearful of the ‘outside’.
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CHALLENGE
The very variety of interest brought some strong religious and social convictions into the open. We commenced a ‘three minute spot’ in the Sunday service where an individual might tell briefly their need or commitment to an ideal or offer a book review. The object of this was to encourage concern for each other and prayer and action for specifics.
This interestingly opened the way for an interchange on political issues. These were the Vietnam years and many of us were trying to shape an on-the-edge community. So many social issues demanded a response. As elections drew near I would extend invitations to each of the contenders and their party support to meet with the congregation in the Parish Hall. I always presided and set the agenda.
We had large and sometimes volatile meetings but I watched so many people in the congregation take a serious and committed interest in local and national politics. All this fed back into the style of parish that we were attempting to build and by extension into the content of the Sunday meeting. I sensed my own theology becoming radicalised. Rick Parkhill sent me his recollections of these days:
The 1970s introduced some changes in attitude throughout society, including the church. Up to this time, long ingrained behaviours, seemed destined to continue unchallenged, as if they were some sort of absolutes. Change ceased to be a threat, but rather an opportunity for fine-tuning, updating and modernising. At Christ Church a group of young people complete with young people’s musical instruments, provided music for many of the evening services. Complementing this were songs of more contemporary style.
Greater participation by the congregation gained momentum. The three-minute spot was introduced, where members would address the congregation on something specific to themselves. This was generally successful, although the timing of some without declamatory experience, left a lot to be desired (particularly when giving book reviews).
We would need to move on from the parish before this could flower as indeed it has done, though the direction it has taken is much more conservative than I might have hoped for. But the years 1969-1976 opened the way for transformation. Christ Church Gladesville was no longer an ‘old world’ parish. One of the more interesting experiences in writing this story has been the clarity that makes me realise the strength of those days.
I accept that this account is no more than my own impaired recollection. But for too many years I have harboured the feeling that Gladesville, so full of hope at our beginning ended with failure. Even commencing this account was fraught with anxiety: I felt all along that I might have to face the depths of my own inadequacy. The sense of brokenness haunted me till I determined even so late in time to face the past and write down my memories. The task has, to this point of writing, taken eighteen months. Suddenly I feel liberated and able to celebrate those years of ministry.
Each Tuesday morning, before Margaret ran one of her many women’s groups, we held an hour’s Bible study. Over a three-year period I taught at depth the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. These sessions were all ex tempore presentations, but taped.
Immediately after each session I would hand the tape to Iris Brooking, my secretary. Iris was a genius at short-hand and a speedy typist: she had been an exceptional commercial secretary. The Hebrews tapes have disappeared, the Revelation tapes were re-copied several times and the last I heard were one set in Canada and another in someone’s elderly box of mementos in Mosman – and by now probably in the family dust bin.
I think I could summarise these Book of Revelation studies even at such a distance. The only commentary I owned was the classic study on the Greek text by H B Swete and dated 1911. So, my archaeological evidence was generationally antique. The emphasis drawn from Swete would have been a careful summary of history with a hint of Christian triumphalism.
But I know without a shadow of doubt – indeed I recall saying as much – that the centre image of the Book was not the coming of Jesus at the end of the age but a cryptic celebration of the crucifixion – ‘the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world’. At Gladesville I was playing out the realised eschatology that had absorbed my reading and teaching interests at Moore. This was my own spin on seeing the teaching of Broughton Knox on atonement and Donald Robinson on hermeneutics refracted through the theology of C H Dodd. Every human response, including discipleship, is measured by the ‘now’ of decision-making.
A printed version of chapters 1-11 of Acts emerged from some old floppy disk copies a short while back. How they got from tape to primitive disc is a complete mystery. And there I am stuck, because I read these studies with some amazement – can they really be my own work? They don’t look like my style and I certainly have no memory of the content detail – but they purport to be mine. I sent copies to Tasso Tricos who seems to have clear memories of those years: he assures me that they are the very studies offered then, and that they also featured in a series of Sunday sermons.
Attendances at Bible Study were strong and the conversations were lively. I sensed there my capacity to communicate ideas and applications to life. And I could have done none of it apart from Margaret’s community-gathering enthusiasm and Iris’ day-long diligence and patience. I remember the constant text revisions till I was satisfied with the result.
In the forty years since those days, Margaret and I have felt steadily marginalised. I need to be careful not to exaggerate this: after all I did return to the staff of Moore as Dean of Students. My name did circulate ever so briefly as Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral and again as Master of St Paul’s College at Sydney University and I was a member of Standing Committee. None of this was inconsequential but the rumour followed us that we were ‘liberal’, theologically suspect and socially too much given to embracing the ‘wrong sort of people’.
Eric Mortley advised me that Archdeacon Richardson had said as much at a 1976 Moore College Committee meeting. And Broughton Knox in a quiet reflective moment noted hearing the same comment; at once he reaffirmed his friendship. He had his own negative feelings about the Archdeacon and nothing could have described Broughton as ‘liberal’, theologically suspect and socially too much given to embracing the ‘wrong sort of people’. Once more I must hold a balance. This writing and larger re-membering has been a powerful act of redemption.
WOMEN’S EVENING GROUP
Margaret’s contribution to ministry has always been outstanding. At Gladesville she reconstituted a women’s evening group which met regularly in the Rectory. She gathered a number of women with young families and shared her own energy for a values-based life. There was nothing simplistic about this. These were days when the Christian Women’s Convention was in the ascendancy in the Diocese and some of their views on women’s submissive sexuality seemed scandalous (at least to us). Some of their speakers joined us occasionally but in the main Margaret’s group was much more open to alternative challenges.
Many times our children sat on the Rectory stairs listening, hurrying into the lounge room for the last part of this very favourite ‘eating meeting’, and then off to bed with the sound of women singing ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life’. That singing had a by-product in a quartet that accompanied Margaret on speaking engagements around the city. They shared their Women’s Evening Group discoveries that life can be unshackled from gestures and conventions about gender and awakened to the dynamism of creative values. What indeed is each person’s sense of self in a world transformed by Vietnam and questioning all the old identities?
Forty years later we would both have spoken about values differently and have been more astute with gender language but for its day what took place in the Women’s Evening Group was well ahead of the repressive values that have increasingly marked Sydney Anglicanism.
One of these programs from 1974 began with a reading from Harold Pinter:
The point is, who are you? Not why or how, not even what: I can see what, perhaps clearly enough: But who are you? It is no use saying you know who you are just because you tell me you can fit your particular key into a particular slot, which will only receive your particular key because that is not foolproof and certainly not conclusive!
Occasionally, I believe I perceive a little of what you are, but that is pure accident! What you are; or appear to be to me, or appear to be to you; changes so quickly, so horrifyingly, I certainly cannot keep up with it and I am sure you cannot either: But who you are I cannot even begin to recognise, and sometimes I recognise it so wholly, so forcibly, I cannot look, and how can I be certain of what I see? You have no number. Where am I to look, where am I to look, what is there to locate so as to have some surety? You are the sum of so many reflections: How many reflections? Whose reflections? – Harold Pinter, The Dwarfs (a radio play, first performed 1963)
What followed was a series of readings, songs and commentary on the exploratory nature of love and relationship in the ‘changed times’ of the ’70s. Margaret has assured me that by adding this next selection of her comments I have not overstepped the mark. As a summary of the long interaction of readings and comments, here are the concluding paragraphs of a sermon that Margaret preached much later at St John’s Darlinghurst. They express for me the woman who has consistently through our marriage stood for the integrity of a values-based life:
Unquestioning obedience and control must always be challenged by open discussion and negotiation, and by respect for our differences in viewpoint and perception. With all my heart I thank my God that my childhood experiences of dying in life, did not destroy my loving in life, and that people have continued to matter to me more than dogma, and truth more than concealment. I thank Him that in my journey into my reality, there has been released in me a profound energy that has found its expression in counselling, a job that I have probably done best in my life because I am now the most whole.
I thank God too for the 100’s of men, women and even children who have sat with me in the counselling room, our safe place. From my own counsellor I experienced love, acceptance and respect for my story – a gift to me that I seek to offer to those who come to me as clients. From all of you, I experience the wondrous nobility of the human spirit, your dignity in your hardship and I marvel at what I see. You are a glimpse into the nobility of God, and a glimpse into the depth of respect that God has for each person in His creation. I wonder that what I feel is a dim reflection of that which Jesus feels for us and longs for us – to feel our depths, to continue our dialogue and to listen attentively to our own messages within.
I asked one of my friends this week what love meant to her. She thought long and hard and answered, ‘Warmth’. Yes! I said. ‘Warmth’ radiating, inclusive, accepting; carefully dislodging my own false expectations, meticulously refusing those cold and barren judgments that seem satisfied only with perfection. Judgments that more often than not are founded on tribal values of power and ownership. Warmth that values the heart, and accepts my own flawed, imperfect brokenness, so that I can sit with another and accept theirs. There is hope in that warmth.
Another of my friends said to me this week, that in this pace of floundering darkness, you do not need a theology or creed to prove you need a God. You need a God Who is warmth and reality, Who shines a Light in that darkness. Who awakens you from your depths and draws you into that light. Who holds out His crucified arms and says, ‘I do this for you. I have this much warmth for you. Take your life and live.’
[Women of Faith and Action Series, November 1998 - transcribed from an audio tape, 26 July 2009.]
And that I imagine is our ‘liberal’ theology and our willingness to embrace the other and the outsider. These words of Margaret may date from recent years but I recall her speaking in this fashion and intention for the 50 and more years we have known each other.
In February 2011, our very thoughtful friend Tasso Tricos sent these memories which I include here:
I deeply appreciated your pastoral gifts. I recall that you and Margaret attended Jim Welch’s 21st birthday party. I recall the concern on your face when Alex and I arrived late for the evening service bandaged; having returned after a car crash near Tallangatta in Victoria. I also appreciated when you sat beside me in church when the curate was preaching. You had the ability to get alongside people and you made time to listen.
The quotes on the front page of the weekly news bulletins were significant. There was a quote by Emil Brunner which led me to buy a paperback edition of selections from the Divine Imperative. I recall the statement that the author would leave the study of theology for a while and catch up on reading in other fields including Economics, psychology, sociology.
I have a quote from the 26th March 1972 edition of the weekly news bulletin which resonates still:
“Every aspect of the 20th century is marked by politics..; the most conscientious Christians unconsciously commit murder simply through their participation in a society in which the rich thrive on the starvation of the poor, in which countries make profit out of war … one of the worst temptations to which we fall prey is that of indifference to the sufferings of men and to its political causes”. –Philippe Maury.
The same bulletin lists the incoming members of parish council. They include Jack Brooking, Jim Gordon and Lionel Thearle. Harry Marscham (I think was on parish council in 1973) would bring the deliberations before God in prayer and his sincere prayers laced with biblical quotes contributed to the tone of the meetings. On parish council you suggested I undertake a project that involved interviewing local funeral directors about the cost of funerals. 25 years later I find myself on a Cemetery Trust attempting to set a fair price for burials.
Lloyd Thomson once mentioned that you would look tired but when you emerged from your study you were refreshed by your reading.
The preaching series on the book of Acts made a great impact on me. The comprehensive outlines of the sermons coupled with the detailed references meant one could carefully digest the contents. I looked forward to the outlines. However what struck me was the distinctive preaching, your preached sermon did not simply follow the written material. The sermon was a separate creation, the spoken word set up a dynamic that both engaged and communicated.
In one of the sermons on Acts to do with the receiving of the Holy Spirit in the early church you were discussing the two stage baptism as a unique event and that something you were grappling with (?) was resolved following the reading of the book “A Theology of the Holy Spirit” that John Paterson had given you to read. For me this meant you were prepared to share that some things were not clear and that you continued to learn. I recall that during the early seventies there was a Pentecostal movement emphasizing the gifts of the Spirit and this was a concern.
On one occasion I attended two services where you preached from the same passage. I thought it remarkable that the sermons were quite distinct with new illuminations. I noticed the careful attention given to the length of the sermon to which you always adhered. Your use of Hebrew in sermons on the book of Genesis had members of the congregation delighting in repeating Bohu and Tohu
Perhaps making the deepest impact were the fellowship discussions in the crypt of the church. It was here that my theological curiosity was engaged and where the intellect was truly stimulated. There was something magical taking place and I well remember the discussion that began it all. It involved a time line depicting the time before Christ and the period between the coming of Jesus and his return. This provided a structure, a looking forward and a looking back. There was an intuitive yes to what I heard. Later I was to read the book “Christ and Time” by Oscar Cullman.
The discussion of course took place within the community; within the fellowship group. This cemented friendships. We played soccer together, we had fellowship outings. There were special family services for the soccer team. Sunday school and youth groups with Alex and Marie Bellchambers. Alex once picked me up in driving rain in his old Toyota to get to Sunday school. I have a copy of a Youth Service with the song “WHO IS WHY “ performed by David Ash and Janine Chard.
I recall the men’s dinners and the work that went on in the kitchen; women such as Beryl Davis. The carpet bowls in the hall. The ALP meetings; the meetings with the political candidates before elections. John Howard as the incoming member for Bennelong. I joined the local branch of the ALP. Bob Springett and Chris Dunkerley joining the Democrats and standing as local candidates or campaign managers.
You opened up my thinking about theological concepts as relational. I read your copy of “Ethics” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which I kept for far too long and of course I bought myself a copy. It stimulated my thinking about what it is to be human, to be man:
“Humanity has been made new in Jesus Christ, who became man, was crucified and rose again … The risen Christ bears the new humanity within himself.” I can understand what it means for Christ to take manhood into the Godhead. I had struggled with how an Eternal and Infinite God could be limited by the finite.
Knowing God’s will was something I wrestled with and here again I found Bonhoeffer helpful: “The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be. The heart, the understanding, observation and experience must all collaborate in this task”
I recall your last service at Christ Church. Ron Winton read Isaiah chapter 45 and you spoke candidly about your time in Gladesville.
These words of Tasso trigger so many disconnected thoughts, suggesting that this personal life saga will never be finished. I need to mention – more than merely mention – the four assistant clergy who worked with me. And then there is the huge story of ‘Wingham’ and the life of that amazing Christian leader Dr Ron Winton. This is a story that has kept unfolding right into my years at St John’s Darlinghurst. Somewhere I have a written account, with commentary, but cannot right now find it. The prospect of re-inventing and re-covering this experience makes me draw breath. Mercifully I am not here about concocting a history of the Parish of Gladesville: I will leave that to someone else.
CELEBRATING “WINGHAM” AT THE HOME OF BOB AND MARY PYE
The story of Wingham needs to be told both as a celebration of Dr Ron Winton and the generations of international students who lived there and then moved on to leadership – especially in Asia. This is a story for another time. Here all I can offer is my admiration for Ron Winton and a recognition that I met in him the heart and soul of a genuine Evangelical commitment to social justice and love for others. Ron lived with dignity and passion and the Gospel of the love of Jesus was the mainspring of his life.
Here is just a snippet of research when I was permitted access to the Diocesan Archives: “UNIVERSITY STUDENTS – WINGHAM HOSTEL
International Friendship Centre at 76 Wrights Road, Drummoyne, set up by Ordinance 1950.
SDA BOX 78″. I referred to this in an article published in Lucas: An Evangelical History Review, ‘The Winter of Our Days: The Anglican Diocese of Sydney, 1950-1960′, no. 9, Mar-April 1990.
Mowll believed that if the evangelising of the world was to be done effectively, student involvement was essential. He began by establishing a hostel at Drummoyne known as ‘The International Friendship Centre’ (or ‘Wingham’). ‘Wingham’ was central to Mowll’s strategy of evangelising Pacific and Southeast Asian countries through converted nationals brought to Australia under the Colombo Plan. The Hostel features constantly in Mowll’s letters to the diocese and in his overseas addresses indicating how important it was to his evangelistic program.
Mowll’s longstanding concern for the evangelising of China, where he had been bishop for eleven years, almost certainly prompted his founding of ‘Wingham’. The need was heightened by communist advance through the Asian mainland and Southeast Asia. Even before the funds for ‘Wingham’ had been manipulated from other sources, Mowll pleaded with the diocese to make the evangelising of these regions its major preoccupation. His Synod charge for 1950 pressed on the conscience of Sydney Anglicans the need to evangelise countries to Australia’s north while there was ‘still time’. A unique opportunity has been given to us, as representatives of the British way of life and of the Christian faith, to influence 1,160 million of the world’s population living in close proximity to our shores. Mowll wrote: “I could wish that all our usual Church problems could be relegated to a subordinate place and that we might arouse ourselves and, through us, the members of the Church, to the challenge of these days for our witness and service to the world around us.”
Ron Winton (centre) Bill Lawton, Alison Reid and Walter Newmarch(?)
SCHOOL RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION
Our predecessors had been diligent Scripture teachers in the local schools and several laypeople, offered consistent assistance. Mrs Roberts arrived one Sunday morning announcing that ‘the fool catechist’ in the church in an adjoining parish had preached on ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’. This had been the last straw for her patience. As she swept out of the Christ Church morning service she added: ‘I am 80, the youngest member of that congregation, and we are all too old to do it.’ With that, she offered to teach a weekly Scripture class at Gladesville Public School. I do not recall her missing a class.
Mrs Ratcliffe snr sat in the same seat every Sunday morning – as I recall half-way down on the right hand side of the church. The flowering peach tree was adjacent to the window. At sermon time, I would watch her count the leaves. There was a challenge. George sat in the choir loft and at sermon time made obvious that he was reading the tide information for his afternoon fishing. There was another challenge.
Each Sunday morning I would push the sermon notes aside and try to catch the eyes of the audience. Mrs Ratcliffe looked my way and in that instant I knew I had her attention. As we filed out of church for morning tea, she offered to teach a weekly Scripture class at Gladesville Public School. I do not recall her missing a class. George Jackson was another matter, but we did become friends and our families embraced each other for the years we lived in the parish.
People reminded me of Maurice Murphy’s and John Reid’s dynamic engagement with the girls at Riverside High. From the first week I knew I would never make contact with them. Year 9 classes were a disaster – of course it was my problem not their’s. Nothing I did worked till one day I arrived to find the classroom empty. The French mistress who organised the scripture classes said resignedly, ‘They are in the playground; if you can catch them you can have them’. I gave up.
We watched so many local girls leave school at the end of Year 10: that seemed our best reason for working hard to convince daughter Kathy to go instead to Abbotsleigh. What I learnt to in retrospect was the focus at Riverside on feminism. There, I was a slow learner and only subsequently could I grasp the hostility my presence aroused – not least with the Principal.
The weekly visit to Hunters Hill High was a complete contrast. From the first week, classes were charged with questions and an interchange of ideas. Challenges about the Vietnam War, political change, the flower-people, peace and love galvanised every class: how could I speak on these issues and draw their minds to Gospel teaching and awaken them to a search for the deepest qualities of human love and endurance. That hour with these young people charged my own resolve to address the same issues in our parish life.
AND SEVEN BECAME THE PERFECT NUMBER
Derek James Lawton
Home was a place where love must expand. On 3 October 1970, a phone call advised that our long-awaited son was ready to come home. We must travel to a maternity hospital in Newcastle NSW to collect this ten-day old small person. I dithered on the phone: it was synod time and I had prior obligations. Then the absurdity of my response hit me. We gathered our children from school and debated the length of the journey how we would name him. Martin, Christopher – Rozi suggested Derek and we all agreed.
I will never forget the large empty room in which we met and then for the first time holding him in my arms. Heather would live on in our memories: she needed no-one to replace her. Derek was a fresh energy for our traumatised spirits. He was central to our new life and a sign of hearts and hopes open to discovery.
Our children were integral to the life changes we were experiencing though those years. We were searching for distinctive family values that would liberate our children to find their own unique paths. We explored schooling, which we hoped would work best for each child. Margaret especially was concerned about an educational and counselling philosophy that focused on listening without judgement. Margaret once added that her commitment in Rectory living was to ‘protect you all from the expectations of others’ (email to Derek 26 April 2004).
We were struggling to find a language and active life-style that would awaken their spirit to sense their own inner beauty and dignity. They were not patterned by the sin and depravity theology we had inherited. They were people in their own right seeking their unique destiny.
All our children willingly supported us through these years: Margaret and I are grateful for their patience and their individuality. In the forty years since, we have watched each of them discover through pain and perseverance ways of honouring life. In those early years at Gladesville I offered them my own life goal that what they achieved and who they were might add to the sum of life.
It will be interesting to compare their responses to these days as they too perhaps commence their own recollections of family in ministry. Back then, we all had some reason for gratitude to the church family for its support and encouragement through schooling and friendships. In the distance there would be the pain of loss and the sense that what we had once accepted as our norms would become for a number of us a cause for faith challenge and very different life direction.
Our family celebrates Heather as still one of our own – but only privately do we speak about having six children. In the public eye we are the family of seven who lived in the Gladesville Rectory and that is perfection enough.
l to r Margaret, Ian, Kathy, Rozi, Nicola, Bill and Derek
TAGS FOR MEMORIES – PEOPLE AND PLACES
As I recall names and places I am entering them here. Some will be located in this reflection on our years at Gladesville. All of them find a place in our hearts. For the moment I am simply trawling back forty years and the memories come hard. Too many shadowy faces no longer connect with names and vice versa.
Mrs Shuttleworth, Nel Anderson, Thelma South, Maree Bellchambers/Mrs Bellchambers, Bob and Lorraine Ratcliffe, Mrs Ratcliffe snr, Lionel and Nola Thearle, Jenny and Martin, Mrs Thearle snr, Clif Lovett (and Mrs), June and Ken Lovett, Gillian and Colin Dismoor, Dismoors snr, Neville and Audrey Annetts, Jim and Audrey Gordon, Bruce Morrison and his sister and parents, Lloyd and Avis Thompson, Harry Marscham, Jack and Iris Brooking, Lesley and Alex, Jack Field, Tom and Merriel Treseder, Bob and Mary Pye, Robin, Roger, Buster Pye, Ian Rumsey, Bill and Beryl Davis, the sisters who lived in Sunnyside Street, Wendy Shepherd, woman who travelled each Sunday from Cattai Ridge Road (ex St David’s Hillside), Janine Chard, Elsie Bromhead, Doris Barnsley, Ray Barraclough, the Geddes family, Mrs Anderson, Peter Anderson, Barry and Peggy Huggett, BCA Sister from Ceduna
Gladesville Public School, Baronia Park Public School, Hunters Hill High, Riverside Girls High, Parish dinners, CEBS, Beryl and Bill Davis at Cape Three Points Road near Endeavour Drive, Avoca, Doris Barnsley at Lane Cove bush and Pearl Beach.
JUST A TOUCH OF FAREWELL
This account has been my own journey – something inward but also something that has relocated me. I began writing with misgiving and have reached this point where I feel no need for regret.
This was never intended as a parish history and so much of what happened in those years has not surfaced here. Part of me wants to make up the losses before the memories of people and events fade even further. But now I need to move on with life and take encouragement from what I have learnt from this exercise.
Before I close I need to acknowledge some of the other close-in people, at this point clergy, who stood by us in those days. They are all capable of telling their own stories and indeed may well have very different perceptions of the years we had together. Lest any of this sounds like mono-ministry, let me add my appreciation of Allan and Pam Blanch, Gordon Preece, Jim and Leslie Ramsay, John Paterson and Rod and Cherie Harding. Our lives intertwined in such special ways. In a sense we were all learning together what ministry might mean for us.
Special time with ‘Paterns’ – The Reverend John Paterson
And because this is no more than the story of an inward journey I salute ‘Paterns’ as the assistant minster who embraced each one of our children. All of them remember him for his care and commitment to them. Gordon Preece suffered my fixation with the Outward Bound School: I wonder has he forgiven me for sending him there for a course. Jim and I had some struggles but our four years saw some amazing growth in parish life. Rod and I remained friends till now, sharing as friends do in the intimate searching that gives energy to life. And Allan, the man I inherited from John Reid, always dependable and always focused on the heart of ministry has carried those qualities into his own long ministry.
So many stories might be told, but all need a different storyteller. With gratitude to each person we journeyed with, and a peace I could not imagine emerging from those years, I bring this account to its conclusion. Humanity is the affirmation of love, forgiveness and restoration: it shapes around ‘the beauteous feet’ of God’s messenger.
“From this God who is a person,
Breaking and entering our lives,
“From this God who meddles
With details that do not concern him:
Passing judgment on habits of thought,
“Our practice in sex, sleep and labour,
Entering the innermost being.
From this meddling God,
“From this interfering God.
“Good Lord, deliver us!” (P W Turner, Christ in the Concrete City)
In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye see sin, but through my tears. (Phineas Fletcher)
I commenced this story on 28 June 2012 and have reached this point on 21 September 2013.